The Kennebunk River has been the lifeblood of this part of Maine for 200 years. It was the basis of the economy, the creator of wealth, the provider of jobs, and has continued to be a major part of the local culture and economy. Shipyards, transportation, grist mills and the fishing industry were all dependent upon and thrived on the river. Today, “the Port” and its 18th and 19th century warehouses (which are now fashionable shops and restaurants) is still the center of activity in the area.
On Sunday September 12, the Brick Store Museum sponsored a guided kayak excursion on the Kennebunk River. Fourteen intrepid museum members/kayakers signed up for a trip called Kayaking Through History which was a tie-in with one of the Museum’s current exhibits called In the Maine Stream. This wonderful exhibit includes the Museum’s 1899 Wabanaki Indian canoe (made on the banks of the Kennebunk River) and other collections reflecting art, history and nostalgia of the Indian traditions and canoeing on the River. Coastal Maine Kayak was the official outfitter for the afternoon’s tour and guided the pack of kayakers up the river. Tracy Baetz, the Director of the Brick Store Museum, briefed the kayakers on some of the sights we’d see on the trip. Leaving from the marina alongside the bridge over the Kennebunk we headed up the river as the tide was coming in. First stop was the site of the Clark Shipyard which built some of the last of the coastal schooners including the four masted Eagle Wing in 1891, the Savannah in 1901 and the Kennebunk in 1918. Not far up the River from the Clark yard was a tidal grist mill which was still in operation up until WWII. The historic Cape Arundel Golf Club came next and once was the location of a canoe dock for the famous canoe races of the 1890’s. The trip proceeded up the River past Picnic Rock, underneath Durrells Bridge, past the early shipyards at Kennebunk Landing, and finally stopped at an old, abandoned railroad bridge (which is still an impressive bit of architecture!).
In some places the River is so quiet and serene that it doesn’t take much to imagine you are back in the 1890′s and you are on the River to watch a shipyard launch another schooner. The River bends like a snake and because of the tidal changes it can behave very differently from day to day. It is surprisingly deep in places and there are few narrow spots, like at Picnic Rock so picking the time to be on the river is important if you want to avoid a lot of work paddling against the tide. The grassy banks attract lots of wildlife and we must have seen over 100 ducks.
On the way back, we all did a little River clean up and in addition to filling a large crate with plastic bottles, cans and bags, we also fished out a floating trash can which we managed to strap on to the back of my kayak and take back with us to the Port.
There are lots of great places to take a kayak out in Kennebunkport. Paddling trips on the Kennebunk River, the Mousam River, or in the coves around Cape Porpoise and out to Goat Island Lighthouse are all great trips to make. So bring your kayak with you (or contact Coastal Maine Kayak) and add kayaking to your list of things to do while staying at the English Meadows Inn our Kennebunkport Bed and Breakfast.